of whether or not you consider it literal truth, the Bible has
more than just good stories in it. It's got tales that form
the backbone of much of Western literature. So it should come
as no surprise that comics creators occasionally dip into the
well of the Old Testament for inspiration.
usually means borrowing themes and vague allusions to existing
stories. After all, it is written in Ecclesiastes 1:9
that "…there is no new thing under the sun."
mid seventies, DC tried to launch an adaptation of the Bible,
covering Genesis in one volume of their DC Super Special,
with art by Joe Kubert. Notice there wasn't a second one.
the phrase Bible comics tends to have the connotation of being
for children. Or worse, it brings to mind those strangely
off-putting books you found in the inspirational section of
your grocery store - and those you only looked at twice because
sometimes Archie was in them. (And those Archie ones, by the
way, were actually okay.)
is surprising in the last year is that two major books have
come out that are both unabashedly Bible adaptations (nope,
not even a whiff of allegory) without carrying the stigma
of being "good for you" before being entertaining.
they have different approaches, reflecting, of course, different
creators, both stand as solid books. According to Kyle
Baker, one begat the other, but he would also be the first
to admit that Samson: Judge of Israel is no pale shadow
of Baker's own work on King David. They're two different
approaches to the same source, as befits two creators bringing
their own passions and interests to ancient tales.
might expect from Baker, King David has a light irreverence
to it, though it never gets in the way of the drama inherent
to the story. Drawn almost as if a storyboard, the art has
an animated feel to it. (Appropriate, since Baker has spent
the past year or so working on Looney Toons.) Lushly colored,
too, each panel could almost be a still from a King David
it doesn't feel still. The characters are fully realized,
fully emotional beings, and Baker's mastery of the form shows
in depicting David from child to older adult. Somehow, he
manages to make David's eyes consistent, and so we can see
the child in the man without making the man look childish.
a clear storytelling style, too, we can believe that a boy's
faith in God will allow him to slay a giant. (There's a little
more to it than that, but you know how the story goes.) That
faith easily slips into adult arrogance, and tragedy builds.
Baker also includes moments of comic relief, remembering what
few storytellers seem to be able to, that it should only be
moments. A lot of it is accomplished by simply salting the
dialogue with idioms that would fit just as easily in a summer
resort in the Catskills as ancient Israel.
it's done tastefully and with respect for his readers' intelligence.
The unsavory aspects of David's story are here; Baker is not
interested in the bowdlerization you might get from Sunday
School, or for that matter, movie adaptations. But he's also
not interested in appealing to more prurient tastes. Everything
serves the story.
by the way, Baker stops halfway through. So you'll have to
pick up the book without the pictures and find out what happens
next. But go ahead and say it; it won't be nearly as much
fun that way.
artist Mario Ruiz caught wind of Baker's plans to do King
David, and realized that the market might be ripe for
further exploration of the Bible in graphic form. He approached
the American Bible Society, publishers of …please try to keep
up …and convinced them to form a comics publishing imprint,
first foray, Samson: Judge of Israel, takes an approach
that falls in line with trends in both American comics and
American Biblical scholarship. (So sue me - I'm pretentious
and prefer the King James text.)
Samson is treated as such - almost a modern hero. Much of
Samson's story needed to be fleshed out to fill 48 pages,
and Ruiz and his scripting partner Jerry A. Novick add a little
more conflict than is in the original text. But it fits. Like
David, Samson is far from a perfect man. In fact, both characters
suffer from terrible hubris. Yes, that's why the Greeks
had a word for it.
penciling is robust, and would not look out of place handling
a spandex clad superhero at all. His interpretation of The
Word, though clearly a different ethnicity, looks suspiciously
like The Spectre. But you know, Vertigo ripped that character
off themselves when The Word appeared in Swamp Thing,
so it's clearly a design that just fits.
Baker, Ruiz and Novick jump around a bit in their story, showing
us Samson's fate upfront - almost. Knowing what is to come
lends weight to the blithe actions of the young hero who just
doesn't appreciate how truly blessed he is until it's too
the two books, Samson: Judge of Israel is a little
less challenging. Where Baker leaves a lot between the lines
(even if it's obvious stuff), Ruiz and Novick tend to caption
everything, making sure that no nuance is missed.
that will make it the weaker of the two books, but it also
makes it one probably better suited for younger readers. By
including the actual scripture in the back of the book, it's
also clear that Samson does have religious instruction
on its mind, even if it hides it better than might be expected.
books, the artists have taken a multicultural approach. Or
rather, they've made the characters look historically accurate.
find anyone looking like Richard Gere or Victor Mature in
these pages, which to my thinking means you really should
get your kids reading them if only for that.
expresses regret that he didn't have time to take part in
Press' next project, a book called Testament. From
the little preview material available, it looks to definitely
raise Metron Press' profile in the comic book world.
by Jim Krueger (Earth X, Challengers of the Unknown,
and Foot Soldiers), Testament somehow frames
a variety of Old Testament tales in a bar called J.J.'s. Obviously,
this is not, by Ruiz' admission, a Sunday School primer.
it is illustrated by some diverse top names, including Bill
Sienkiewicz, Phil Hester, Steve Rude, and even Sergio Aragones.
Be careful; you might get sucked in and learn something.
to Metron Press' plans, Testament will be available
in September. If they fail to make that date, please remember
that to everything there is a season under heaven.